This week was an interesting exercise in “winging that mo’…” I had a lot of interesting tidbits on Chinatown, names, gang affiliations, and other information all set to go for the game this week…and promptly forgot my laptop that I had plugged in to recharge when I went to the session. It happens. I couldn’t get my phone to talk to iCloud properly, and I didn’t back the adventure up anyway, so what do you do in a situation like this?

Roll with it. I knew the broad strokes. I knew villain names. I had posted the baddies for the adventure on this blog, so I had access to stats, etc. I set to “improvisation” and ran the adventure. I knew that the first scene would be catching up with the character that was taken captive last week, since the player had been absent. We covered Cointreau’s — the French actor and sometimes cat burglar — attempt to find a willing prostitute to try his new mystic Tantric knowledge on…only to find nothing was happening. Disappointed, he got the madam of the house to sent him to “someone that might be able to help….” This was the brothel at which the characters had had their big fight set piece last week when they wen to save him, only to find him gone without a trace.

What we see is that the huli jing, Ming Yao, had coaxed his desire to learn what he’s calling “sex magic” from Cointreau. She recognized the techniques as being old…and offered to take him to someone that could help him. He agreed to this, the player realizing that this would speed the plot. He was taken through a secret trap door down a series of steps that led under the building, under the city’s infrastructure, to a cave system that had wooden foot paths constructed (in an earthquake zone, no less…) She led him to an ornate dragon gate: a red lacquered door surrounded by dragon motifs, and through that into a great hall, like a temple.

Here they met Dai Pan, the leader of the On Yik Tong — slavers, smugglers, and murderers all. Pan has three of these fox spirits at his beck and call, and at some point Cointreau realized that the man didn’t walk. He glided. He didn’t sense him when he was close and at one point, while Dai Pan was convincing him to remain so that they could return him to his mistress, the woman that showed him this was all possible (Morana!), he casually reached out and poked Pan. To find his hand went right through him. He has been here for a long time, guarding the 7th Gate, and now there may be the opportunity to finally have his curse lifted so he might live again, or finally pass beyond.

The rest of the team, meanwhile, goes to Chinatown to try and find out where their friend is. They don’t have to look long before they are directed to the Chinese Consolidated Benevolence Society or “Six Companies” — the cabal of gang leaders who keep the peace in Chinatown since the Tong Wars of the last decade. There, the president of the Six Companies, “Uncle Dave” Pei will tell them their friend is most likely in the hands of the On Yik Tong, a restive bunch of slavers, if their fight last night in one of their brothels is anything to go by. He tells them where they can find the On Yik, but before they can go far, they are attacked outside of the Six Companies, and we had a good chop socky fight sequence, with plenty of fisticuffs and a bit of gun play by O’Bannon and Post. The fight was meant to be difficult, with a dozen opponents, but the boys were blowing through them quickly. We were also starting to run late, so I let the fight close out with the appearance of a rival gang, the 17 Tigers, led by a very American Chinese guy named Eddie Wang.

With Cointreau separated from the group, but the focus on them for much of the night, I gave the player the task of rolling for the bad guys, so that he was engaged and having fun. This technique has been successful for me when it’s neccessary to split the party. Give the player control of the actions of the bad guys is also a nice way of keeping them in the mix, but I recommend this only if your group is adult enough not to get honked off at their companion, should he kick the crap out of their characters.

Their friend isn’t the only one in danger…perhaps the whole world. They know a man who can give them the skinny and help them if they are planning on going up again Dai Pan and the On Yik. He takes them to the Egg Fu Yung Import Store, run by his mother and “Uncle” Runyi Shen, an old man (we went for the inevitable Egg Shen comparison) who has been here for a long time, since before the city was born, protecting the 7th gate from Dai Pan, a “hungry ghost” that exists between worlds, a creature made of dreams.

In this portion, Veitch and Zelansky realized that the ghost might be susceptible to an electrical attack, much like the electroforce cannon Tesla made for the OSI. Can Veitch make something like that? Vetich rolled his Science with the aid of Zelansky and got six successes — with his Weird Science trait, he certainly can. He started putting together a electroforce pistol that would use the crystal that Zelansky took from the tulku in Tibet. (They were using it to identify the new Dalai Lama, but it also responds to Veitch — he’s got Atlantean blood!) He biffed the roll to build it due to the short time, but I decided that he had a working prototype with a highly limited capacity and range…and if he botches a roll, “something will happen.”

We jumped back to Cointreau, who slipped out of bed from his night with three of the fox spirits. He cases the joint, looking for valuables and intelligence on this Dai Pan, only to see some of the gang removing the desiccated body of a young woman that Pan had fed off of. He stumbled into the main chamber that he had arrived in and realized, he’d never looked back at the dragon gate. On this side, he can see the orichalcum, eye-shaped frame of a gate like the Eye of Shambala. And Dai Pan is talking to someone through it, even though it is closed. In front of the gate, they’ve place a four-armed statute of a goddess (Durga, but he didn’t know that) and Pan is talking to a disembodied female voice that they are hearing in their heads, not with their ears…Cointreau is hearing it in French; it’s Morana, the Queen of Shambala. She is telling Pan, once they come to rescue Cointreau, as they will — these mercenaries are a tight group; they will not let one of their number be taken — he should take special pains to keep the “boy” (Veitch, Cointreau realizes) alive…he is hers. If she gets him, Pan will get what he wants.

At this point, Cointreau was discovered by a guard, and Pan — who had known he was there the whole time — tells him “You’re not supposed to be up yet…” and advanced on him. Scene close.

We ended for the night there, with a rescue attempt being put together hastily, Cointreau torn between returning to Morana and her “skills” to learn her “sex magic”, and the form Empress-Consort of Atlantis laying a trap for the crew.

For improvising on the fly, it ran smoothly and quickly. Everyone had a good time and the players are starting to really get into the characters and how to start developing their own shticks for the game. Veitch is doing more inventing, O’Bannon is moving toward kung fu stuff like Pin-Li, Post is moving toward being the gun bunny, Cointreau wants sex magic, and Zelansky is getting into his leader role more. (The player suggested an excellent use of the character’s Guardian trait by kicking over a fruit stand to slow their attackers during the street fight, and hence give a +2 defense to the others.)

Overall, it’s nice to rescue a night from potential failure due to not having your prep. Key is to know what you wanted to do, if you have a more story-driven game. If you are a sandbox-style GM, this probably wouldn’t have phased you in the least. Letting the players take the lead is always a good idea, no matter how much you prepared for the night.

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